Can President Maithri live up to expectations in 2018?
BY GAGANI WEERAKOON
The dawn of January 2018 was extremely eventful, not because of usual New Year celebrations, but purely due to political developments, from former President Mahinda Rajapaksa kicking off the election campaign of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to President Maithripala Sirisena's much awaited statement on the Treasury Bonds scam. However, by yesterday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe came under the spotlight with a video of him doing a dance number with his aunt senior actress Iranganie Serasinghe to popular calypso number 'Kale Ukule Thiyala' at a wedding held in Mount Lavinia Friday (5) night. The Prime Minister's not so commonly seen gesture momentarily took away the limelight from the Sri Lankan bride and Irish groom with all Irish relatives of the groom starting to cheer the PM.
While it is indeed a delight to see such light moments, it will not be able to suppress the fact that the Yahapalana Government of President Maithripala Sirisena has numerous unfulfilled or delayed promises as he completes three years in office. President Sirisena will start his fourth year in office from Tuesday (9) a day after it completes nine years of the unsolved brutal murder of veteran journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge. The murders of Wickrematunge and Ruggerite Wasim Thajudeen and the disappearance of Cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda were key slogans in January 2015 Presidential Election campaign used against then Rajapaksa regime, which remains unsolved.
The Government which came into power promising uncorrupted, democratic and transparent governance by defeating a 'corrupt', undemocratic, despotic regime did not take long to cause dismay in its voters in with the infamous and controversial Treasury Bonds scam in which over Rs 8 billion was lost to the Government directly and was predicted to incur a loss of over Rs 1 trillion in 30 years- the time of maturity.
President Sirisena in his much awaited statement said that members of both main political parties will be among the respondents when legal action is filed in accordance with the investigations and the recommendations made by various commissions investigating fraud.
Referring particularly to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Bond scam, the President said it has recommended that criminal and civil proceedings should be initiated against a list of alleged wrongdoers identified by the commission, and all profits garnered by Perpetual Treasuries (PTL) be recovered.
He said, the list includes "relevant persons and officials who are responsible for the fraud including PTL, Arjuna Aloysius and Kasun Palisena." Accordingly, the Government is in consultation with the legal authorities, the President said.
"The report stated that the Perpetual Treasuries Limited has earned profits through means that are not legal, with the involvement of (then Central Bank Governor) Arjuna Mahendran, bank officials and some external parties," he said.
The report stated that senior officials of the Central Bank were inactive before the former Governor.
The commission also faulted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for making a statement in Parliament supportive of Mahendran because he "believed in the facts presented by Mahendran."
The commission also wants action taken against former Minister of Finance Ravi Karunanayake, regarding the payment of rent for the 'Penthouse' apartment by Walt and Raw Company, owned and controlled by the Aloysius family. The President said that the commission noted "Karunanayake was responsible for that and recommended that the Government should take necessary action against Ravi Karunanayake for bribery and corruption, and further legal action should be taken under the penal code for giving false evidence at the Commission."
The Commission found that in one day PTL has made a minimum profit not less than Rs 688 million. As revealed during the investigations, PTL has made an undue profit of Rs 11,145 million in the secondary market. In this, EPF and other Government institutions such as the Mahapola Fund had lost more than Rs 8.5 billion.
The cost of the commission will also be recovered from PTL.
The President said, he has already submitted this report to the Attorney-General and the Commission recommends that the criminal and civil Court action must be taken through the Criminal Investigations Department and the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption.
The Commission is of the opinion that similar incidents, as revealed in the Commission Report, had happened even in 2008, and wants the Central Bank to conduct a forensic audit with regard to these practices during that period, and based on such findings, legal actions should be taken.
All eyes on AG
Following President Sirisena's statement, now all eyes are on the Attorney General and his Department. It is one of the departments that came under severe criticism in the past three years with everyone blaming it for delays in bringing culprits to book who are alleged to have committed crimes during Rajapaksa Regime.
While some laud the action by the President to refer the report to the Attorney General, many others view it as a mere eyewash and a political strategy to buy more time for Yahapalana Government to continue.
The United National Party, of which its, Deputy Leader Ravi Karunanayake has been recommended by the Commission to be charged for bribery and for giving false evidence before the Commission, has also commended the work by the Commission.
However, in an official statement issued by the Prime Minister's office, it has been brought to notice that there is an initial report directed to the AG's Department in 2016 on the same issue which, up to date has not being responded to.
The Prime Minister's office said a report by the Parliament's Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) was referred to the AG as far back as 31 October, 2016.
"The report on the presidential commission on bond issues has been referred by the President to the Attorney General. The report of the COPE Chaired by Sunil Handunetti was referred with instructions from the Prime Minister on 31 October to the Attorney General."
The Prime Minister had also asked in December 2016 to find out the officers responsible for the controversial bond auctions and recommend legal action, the statement said while adding, "We now hope the Attorney General's Department will take the necessary steps."
Meanwhile, former President and current Parliamentarian Mahinda Rajapaksa said he is in favour of the recommendation made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing the issuance of Treasury Bonds by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, to investigate Bond transactions from 2008 to 2015.
Rajapaksa claimed that if the issuance of bonds during the said period is looked into, the fact that the officials who acted in this regard at the time are completely free of wrongdoing would be perfectly illustrated.
He added that only a summary of the PCoI report had been released so far, and therefore it would be more appropriate if steps were taken to place the entire report in the public domain.
He pointed out that the country was awaiting suitable punishments to be meted out to the true culprits responsible for the biggest financial and monetary fraud perpetrated in this country. He further explained that the Treasury Bonds scam had also led to a severe economic crisis in the country and had even primarily contributed to the rising cost of living.
Rajapaksa noted that the entire country was waiting until the Attorney General's Department took steps to file legal action against all those who are responsible for the bond scam regardless of stature.
Several parties including Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and the UNP too have requested the report to be placed in the public domain.
Meanwhile, several Government ministers including those in the SLFP have said that Prime Minister was not found guilty or implicated in the Commission's report. However, while only those who have read the full report could attest to this, President Sirisena in his statement diplomatically mentioned that the Commission has observed that the Premier should not have made statements Based on former CB Governor Arjuna Mahendran's assurances.
Former Chairman of the COPE and General Secretary of the Communist Party D. E. W. Gunasekera said that the top UNP leadership couldn't absolve itself of the responsibility for the bond scams.
They perpetrated the first Treasury bond scam on 27 February 2015, on the 50th day of 100-day Yahapalana Government, Gunasekera said:
"Let me explain the phenomenal growth of Perpetual Treasuries Ltd (PTL) since its establishment in 2013 during the previous administration. Having launched operations with
Rs 300 million as capital, how could PTL manage to obtain Rs 11 billion in profits within five months?" He said that PTL had received Central Bank recognition as the 16th primary dealer authorized to operate in the lucrative Treasury bond market.
The PTL group wielded political influence at the highest level, former COPE Chairman has said, alleging that a spate of attempts had been made to sabotage the inquiry until the very end.
He pointed out that PTL had earned profits at the expense of the Employees' Provident Fund (EPF), National Savings Bank, Mahapola Scholarship Fund and Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation (SLIC).
Gunasekera said the bond scams wouldn't have come to light without the expert opinion given by former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank Dr. W. A. Wijewardena.
Appreciating the work of Presidential Commission members, SC judges, K. T. Chitrasiri, Prasanna Jayawardena, and former Deputy Auditor General Velupillai as well as incumbent Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe, top AG's Department officials,including Senior Additional Solicitor General Dappula de Livera and Additional Solicitor General Yasantha Kodagoda as well as the Deputy Auditor General Chula Wickremaratne, who assisted in the first COPE Commission, Gunasekera praised the then head of the Public Debt Dpartment Deepa Seneviratne for serving the interests of the nation.
Comparing President Sirisena's actions with that of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1959 against three corrupt members of his Cabinet, the former COPE Chairman emphasized that had the President appointed a Commission with judicial powers; those responsible could have been promptly dealt with.
The country would never get an opportunity to clean up the society if President Sirisena failed to go all out to achieve that goal, Gunasekara warned.
lConsidering the recommendations of the Commission, the Government recommends adopting a new Monetary Law Act in order to avoid this kind of malpractices in the Central Bank in future. The existing legal provisions are old and need replacement.
lIt is also recommended that the Registered Share Market Act must be replaced by a new legal Act.
lMembers of Monetary Board and Central Bank Governor must be appointed by the Constitutional Council in concurrence with the members. The regulations must be amended accordingly.
lThe report recommends that there should be highest levels of supervision over the Public Debt Department. As auditing at the Central Bank has not been conducted in a proper manner, the Commission recommends that the Audit Department must be reorganized completely. A Legal Department must be established in the Central Bank and ensure that it functions efficiently.
lAs the Commission did not have the mandate to inquire into Treasury bond issues from 2008 to 2015, the Commission had not done that. However, the Commission recommends that there should be an investigation into that period too.
lThe Commission recommends that the dealings with the Pan Asia Bank and the conduct of its Chairman must be investigated into. It also recommends that activities of the EPF must be looked into, and in order to bring the EPF into a proper order, steps must be taken to restructure the EPF. A code of conduct for the officials of the Central Bank must be introduced. The code of conduct for Primary Dealers must be revised and updated.
lThe Commission has stated that the Attorney General and the Commission to investigate Bribery or Corruption must take the legal actions to implement the recommendations of the Commission.
lUnder normal circumstances, recovery of money can be done through civil legal action. However, it is a time consuming method. As an alternative, the Commission recommends that a Parliamentary legislation could be passed and the money could be recovered in a speedy manner following a Parliamentary approval. We agree to that recommendation.
lThe recommendation of the Commission is that all the expenditure incurred for the Commission must be recovered from the Perpetual Treasuries Limited.
lI have already submitted a copy of the Commission Report to the Attorney General and he will identify the persons against whom the legal action must be taken and initiate necessary criminal or civil legal action to implement the recommendations of the Commission.
lI wish to clarify here, that a minor amendment to the Bribery or Corruption Commission Act must be enacted to take legal action on the recommendations of the Commission. For this purpose, experts at the Legal Draughtsman Department are already working on the required amendment.
lThe steps needed to make the Commission to investigate allegations of Bribery or Corruption more active and efficient should have been taken a long time ago, and now we are taking the required steps for that purpose.
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